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Driven: Audi A1

2011-01-28 13:07

Hailey Philander

THE NEXT BIG AUDI: Audi's biggest little car yet - the A1 - has arrived in South Africa.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer AUDI
Model A1
Engine 1.2 TFSI; 1.4 TFSI; 1.6 TDI
Power 63kW @ 4 800rpm; 90kW @ 5 000rpm; 77kW @ 4 400rpm
Torque 160Nm from 1600 - 3 500rpm; 200Nm from 1 500 - 4 000rpm; 250Nm from 1 500 - 2500rpm
Transmission five-speed manual (1.2 TFSI and 1.6 TDI), six-speed manual (1.4 TFSI); seven-speed S tronic (1.4 TFSI)
Zero To Hundred 11.7sec; 8.9sec; 10.5sec
Top Speed 180km/h; 203km/h; 190km/h
Fuel Tank 45 litres
Boot Size 270 to 920 litres
Steering Speed-sensitive electro-hydraulic steering
ABS ESP with EBD, ABS, EDL, brake booster and brake assist
Airbags dual front, side and curtain
Tyres 15-inch on Attraction; 16-inch on Ambition
Front Suspension McPherson struts with lower wishbones
Rear Suspension Torsion-beam rear suspension
Price from R219 000
After being hyped to within a millimetre of its appeal, Audi’s anticipated A1 hatchback has arrived – and we skipped to Mpumalanga to drive it.

We detoured to the über-trendy Melrose Arch to the north of Johannesburg, which has over the past two weeks played host to the public introduction of the smallest car in the Audi family to South Africans. Of course, the province with the deepest pockets (and ostensibly the most influential trendsetters) has received the lion’s share of Audi’s A1 efforts so far.

But chilled Capetonians and laid-back Durbanites are next in line, so there’s no need to feel excluded if you live in any of these major cities and you, too, would like to experience a little of the A1 magic dust Audi is liberally sprinkling about. It’s worth a visit, even if only for the chance to allow the guys from the Audi Driving Experience to gleefully scare the bejeezus out of you when they take to an undercover parking "course" with their track-honed skills.


But back to the VW Polo-based A1, which topples the trusty A3 as the entry-level Audi; a position it has held since its addition in 1998. Dimensions for the A1 are predictably compact. The hatchback, which rides on a 2.5m wheelbase is just shy of four metres long and is 1.9 metres wide, features clever styling that certainly makes it appear smaller than it seems.

While building something of this size may have proved somewhat challenging for Audi designers, it doesn’t really explain the presence of its SUV-inspired taillights. This feature is a lot more noticeable when seen in 3D in the metal where the jutting cluster becoming more prominent. The styling is standard Audi fare, although at the front the oversized single-frame grille’s corners are said to be more tapered. Also worth noting is the clever integration of the daytime LEDs into the main lighting cluster.

The A1 is built in Brussels and, at launch, models shipped to South Africa are fitted with a choice of three direct injection turbocharged engines. As we recently reported, the range-topper for the A1 range, at least until the potent S1 arrives, is the 136kW twin-charged 1.4 TFSI which follows in April or May, 2011.

Until then, these three engines should keep drivers sufficiently entertained, even if only to give their owners a reason to rattle off green credentials.

UP FOR SPORTS?: A sports chassis and compact dimensions contribute to the A1's fun-seeking qualities.


The A1 sees the first application of VW AG’s 1.2 TFSI in an Audi product in SA. A 90kW 1.4 TFSI and a 1.6-litre TDI complete the launch offering. Two trim packages – Ambition on the petrol models and Attraction for the 1.4 and 1.6 TDI models only – are available. Of the six models, four have CO2 emissions figures of under 120g/km (figures range from 103 to 124g/km) and are therefore exempt from taxation.

Standard efficiency measures across the range include start-stop technology, brake energy recuperation, driver information system with efficiency notes, optimised aerodynamics and gear change indicators on manual models, along with the A1’s inherent lightweight body construction. All these terms are very adult features on a car that Audi is desperately hoping the young and young-at-heart will latch on to, so what does this mean when it comes to the driving experience?

It’s no secret that Audi is gunning directly at Mini territory with this A1, although the names DS3 and Mito (Citroen and Alfa’s fun contenders) were also bandied about.
The Audi is undoubtedly cute and agile, but for the most part it just felt like a regular Audi, just a little smaller.


All the fun elements are there, though. My driving partner and I missed out on the TDIs that were made available at the launch, which meant we spend all our time in the gutsy 1.4 with S tronic. The seven-speed dual clutch transmission, in its application in the A1, is sublime as ever and plucking at the steering paddles while clattering through the various twists and turns the route provided was positively grin-inducing.

The A1 with its sports chassis is beautifully balanced and at no stage felt even vaguely unflustered, even as the wheels scrambled for traction on the more trying sections. All cars come equipped with ESP (which can be turned off) with an electronic front limited slip diff to ensure spirited driving sessions should mostly stay on track.

The car’s ride quality is impeccable and apart from its occupants gingerly making their way along a dirt road with more than a few gaping potholes (the unit driven at the time was fitted with optional 18-inch wheels), it was even comfortable on the bumpy bits. Attraction models are sold with 15-inch wheels as standard, while the Ambition models roll on 16-inchers.

The launch route was more country roads than the bumper-to-bumper city traffic most A1s would be forced to regularly endure, but the towns we travelled through gave us some indication of the car’s behaviour at low speeds. The start-stop system on the 1.4 kicks in with an amusingly sputtering rumble, but it was barely noticeable as I became accustomed to it.  The steering remained comfortably light.

THE SWEET SPOT: The A1's cabin is generously appointed. Higher-spec Ambition models have leather trim, multifunction steering and driver information systems.


However, that is perhaps where the A1 differs most from its main rival. Steering on purportedly sportier cars is generally tighter to allow more feedback to the driver, who is then able to more accurately place the car on those tricky apexes. Heavier steering on the A1 would have been appreciated, although most would probably look beyond that.

What is undeniable is that the A1 is packed to the hilt with features, standard and optional. And to attract a younger crowd, the local A1s are almost infinitely customisable with an array of leather and cloth interior finishes and colours. There are a number of connectivity packages, styling packages and sticker sets to choose from, along with Audi’s obligatory S Line pack. Prices for these extras range from R1650 to beyond the R20 000-mark.

Parent company VWAG has big plans in place for the Audi brand and the A1 is certainly expected to play its part. It is unlikely to commandeer the A4’s position as the primary sales driver for Ingolstadt, but the fervent hope that A1’s fresh, young and bubbly demeanour will “snag ‘em while they’re young” is surely worth something.

And Audi has big plans for the A1. Along with the S1 hopefully some time in 2012, a five-door Sportback version of the little Audi is also expected to be shown.


•    A1 1.2 TFSI Attraction Manual                                            R219 000*
•    A1 1.4 TFSI Attraction Manual                                            R235 000
•    A1 1.4 TFSI Attraction S tronic                                             R252 500*
•    A1 1.4 TFSI Ambition Manual                                              R253 000
•    A1 1.4 TFSI Ambition S tronic                                              R270 500*
•    A1 1.6 TDI Attraction Manual                                              R247 000*

Models marked with a * are free of CO2 taxation. All models are sold with a full five-year/100 000 km Audi Freeway maintenance plan.

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